Idyllwild, CA

View from top of S.R.
Nuzzled in the San Jacinto mountains just 2.5 hours from of Santa Monica, Idyllwild is the perfect mountain-time fix for all hikers, stargazers, relaxers and gotta-get-out-of-towners alike.

Type: Outdoors, Weekend Trip
Category: Date, Adventure, Trails
Quick-Rec: If you like miles of trails, mountain towns with just one bar, stunning scenery and locally owned shops and restaurants, schedule your trip to Idyllwild. If you're craving 5-star hotels, downhill skiing, lakes, fancy food and urban personalities, this isn't your destination.

Unlike Big Bear, Mammoth and Mt. Baldy, Idyllwild isn't built around a specific tourist season since it's nowhere near a downhill ski resort or a lake. For some, this may be a deterrent; for others, this makes Idyllwild a delightful destination anytime of year.

Getting there:
The drive to Idyllwild is benign during the summer, and at worst requires chains during the winter. From Los Angeles, taking you through numerous small cities like Beaumont (stop at Tacos & Beer, a wonderful hole-in-the-wall Mexican restaurant that makes the tastiest carnitas and buttery tortillas) right before you take the scenic road that climbs, twists and turns directly to (and through, if you wish) Idyllwild town center.

Cat Nap, Silver Pines Lodge
If you're not visiting to backpack and camp, there is an abundance of cabins and houses to rent located close to town and on varying degrees of outskirts. I highly recommend Silver Pines Lodge for the location to everything in town (a short five-minute walk), price and of course—personality. Silver Pines Lodge offers rooms and small cabins for rent, plus access to their lodge for games, a crackling fire and hot drinks. Our themed (condo-style) studio was called Cat Nap, a perfect little retreat decked out in cat decor. Cat Nap (perfect for two) was under $100 a night.

There are three options for breakfast that I highly recommend. The first is the spot we went to both mornings of our visit, the Red Kettle. Opening as early as 6:30 AM, the Red Kettle has a fantastic array of hearty breakfast options (think omelets, biscuits, pancakes and more) plus plenty on the lighter side (oatmeal, fruit, egg whites). The two are the town bakeries: the Town Baker and Idyllwild Bake Shop & Brew. The latter is fun because you can get cookies, muffins and pie plus a specialty coffee drink (or beer)!

Homestyle cooking at the Red Kettle
Since most folks spend their days outdoors sustained by trail mix, jerky and such, the next meal is often dinner. Open the latest, the Lumber Mill Bar & Grill has typical bar fare (burgers, fries, enormous appetizers and a full bar) plus karaoke nightly. For more quiet options, Gastronome is traditional Americana (get the roasted whole trout with mashed potatoes), FERRO has mountain-upscale Italian and La Casita Mexican Restaurant is known for its jalapeƱo dip.

Note: that you should call your restaurant of choice prior to showing up because "mountain time" means that closing time is at the restaurant's discretion.

Aside from board games, pointing out constellations and drinking beer, obviously you should take a hike. Stop by the local ranger station (it's in town) to discuss trail options, permits, etc. Some trails you need wilderness permits, others you also need a parking permit. Permits are either $5 or free.

We particularly enjoyed the trail to Suicide Rock (6.5 miles) for it's epic 365-view (photo at the top of the post) of the area and perfect challenge.

Need gear? Buy or rent at Nomad Ventures

Want to go to the movies? Rent or watch at Rustic Theatre which screens one movie at a time.

Final note:
Great for a weekend (or longer) getaway, an overnight before or after climbing Mt. Jacinto or even just a pitstop for a day trip.

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